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#24 to all the jobs I've hated before
It seems like nobody wants to work these days
Hello my friend,
How are you? Where are you right now?
I’m pretty good and also sitting cross-legged on my bed, chin in hand.
Writing these past couple of weeks has been a real shit fight. I know I say this every edition and you’re probably sick to death of hearing about it, but part of the self-expression, for me anyway, is talking about how truly, agonisingly beige the process is. What’s weird is that I thought I was writing a whole other thing about hate and judgement and criticism. But actually, this edition has taken shape as a piece about work; the purpose we get from the things we get paid to do and shitty jobs (of which I’ve had so many).
On the note of work, and considering I’ve always hoped to be a writer. I do just want to say that I’m upset at myself for how this newsletter has slipped into the realm of the fortnightly, rather than the weekly. That feels like a real failure, but shit, how does one find time to live? Which is to say, how does one find time to lie on their unmade bed, in a damp towel, and pre-write texts in their notes app?
Unsurprisingly, Substack seems algorithmically inclined toward writers who are dizzyingly prolific. Kim Kardashian’s get up and work rings in all of our ears. And all the Substack writers are talking about their consistency; I’m publishing weekly, bi-weekly, tri-weekly! A person born in TWO THOUSAND AND ONE writes a newsletter called internet princess with thousands of paying subscribers, and their newsletter is so smart and good and regularly written it makes me sick. You should subscribe.
And on the note of algorithms; being aware of them, factoring them in, treating them with any respect at all - it’s such a weird one. I think there is an expectation that I should be doing this solely for me. But you know, that’s what journaling is for. I hit publish for both of us. And hitting publish too often feels slimly dangerous, especially when the content is a bunch of mangled thoughts that could get you cancelled before anyone even knows who you are.
Anyway, today I’ve managed to hit publish once again! Better late than never, for both of us.
Below is a journal entry from around 2017 when I was working in a call centre. I was sad about my job and so full of regret about what I perceived as an overall too lateness (a common theme for me). It is kind of cringe-y, but what privately written thoughts of a 20-something aren’t?
The only thing strong about me is my nails, I think to myself as I gnaw at the nail on my middle finger, my rude finger. Bending and pushing the splice of hardened protein, slick now, with my saliva. But the stupid strong thing wont rip, won't move with my mouth. It stays whole, a little bent but much the same as before.
I think I must have inherited my softness from someone. It's an odd mixture of laziness and fear. I want so much, well just fame & fortune, really. And every day a new idea. To be a writer, a gardener, a dog walker, an actress, a therapist, a teacher, a photographer. To move to London or New York or Puerto Escondido. I can't stick to one thing; the course is never straight. I envy my friends who are teachers and lawyers and nurses, who have fixed themselves to one good thing. Years ago, it was easy to think I was interesting, a creative. But I’m not, I work in a call centre, not even for anything I think is cool. And to teach or nurse or practice law, there’s nobility in that. A strength, a value system and an idea of what is good. To work in a job that makes you want to cry, while you live in fear of most things, well that's just sad.
Still, I think as I sip my Earl Grey, I couldn't be a nurse or a lawyer. I don’t have what it takes. But perhaps teaching? And for the third time this week I open a new tab and type “teaching degrees Melbourne” into the search bar. I will spend the next two hours opening tab after tab after tab, never actually reading any of them.
At around 2.30 I walk down the café to buy a coffee, so late in the day? I wonder about maybe becoming a youth worker and then as I watch the moustached man froth the milk, I think it would be nice to open a cafe. Or a dive bar. Fun.
At home again, I lie on the floor of my bedroom and look at the ceiling, sad that tomorrow is Monday. I think about how when people ask me what I do, my eyes sting and my cheeks get hot. Oh god, I think, pull yourself together. Children are dying in Syria.
I stand up, walk over to my laptop and for the fourth time that week open a new tab and type “international development degrees Melbourne”.
The thing is, throughout my entire 20’s I had innumerable shitty jobs. In clothing stores, in supermarkets, selling mortgages, answering phones – all different but also the same in that they were thickly linked by the overwhelming sense that they were absolutely not for me. Or not what I studied for.
Of course, when you’re 23 you can easily go to your job in a workwear store where you eat hunks of sourdough and sun-dried tomatoes with your thoughtful, kind-eyed boss and talk about marriage and racism while you dust the Blundstones. But at some point, having a job where the only aspect of it that requires any part of your brain is waxing lyrical (not at all professional) with the person who employs you, kind of becomes a little sad. Especially when you have a $20,000 HECS debt for creative writing.
It generally becomes tear-fodder right around the time all your friends get their career jobs and start talking about doing a year in London and there you are, hungover on a Monday, nodding quietly as someone screams down the phone “are you fucking stupid or what?”
Labour journalist Sarah Jaffe has written a book called Work Won’t Love You Back and in it she talks about the toxic western work culture that suggest we should love our jobs. Gone are the days of having a job to feed ourselves and the people we love. No, now our work must be part of what makes us who we are, it must inform our personality, and forge the silver thread of our dreams. Jaffe explains that despite how this may seem like a step in the direction of happiness, it’s actually a clever trick to get us to work more. Jaffe suggests that these days we’re much more likely to accept poor treatment, less pay and long hours in the name of love. Unsurprisingly this way of thinking is losing it’s shine.
Exploitation aside, believing that your job must fulfil can have you writing sad little musings like the one above. You move through life with a limp heart, thinking that once you find the thing you’re meant to do, your heart will reshape itself into the word YES. Kind of like the way we feel about meeting the one.
It’s not to say that work can’t thrill you. But when you have a job that feels a bit bleak, you can be left wanting, aching for something else. It can suck the colour from your entire life, your relationships, your art, the way your dog looks at you. You were told by almost everyone to do what you love but you there’s nothing about what you do that you love. It’s a tough, grey spot. Especially when the first question people ask you when they meet you is, “what do you do for a quid?”
And boy are the quid needed!
I often think about the wheel we thunder around, like silly (but adorable) rodents. We buy lovely new things and are told that even though we certainly don’t have as much money as Kim Kardashian, we can have the same activewear as her, the same phone. In fact, there’s barely an item out of our reach, if we’re willing to work hard and sink into a little bit of credit card debt.
And of course, beyond the dramatic white shirt that cost $170 (you know the one, every time you wear it your partner calls you Captain Jack Sparrow), there’s the cost of the day to day; meal kit subscriptions, gym memberships, bills, petrol, haircuts. These things form the web of infrastructure that exists around work, and the ultimate symbiotic relationship; you can’t get to work without wheels and when you get to work you need to look nice, and you’re working such long hours you don’t have time to go to the supermarket and you sit at your desk all day, so you need to run hard and breathless on a treadmill for 45 minutes at 6am. And you need a job to pay for these things!
None of this is ground-breaking, it’s just stuff I think about.
These days I’m lucky to have a job that doesn’t make me want to cry. I’m very thankful for that. It’s not to say I’m not a victim of the great capitalist dream; finding a job that I love. But I am starting to think that getting paid to do something that I like, and finding the love elsewhere, for example; in people who will love me back, or walking on beaches, or reading books, or writing this newsletter (all things I do not get paid for), is actually not the worst.
Does that sound healthy, or like giving up? I can’t tell.